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Premier League friendlies: Saints undone by Lampard’s Rams

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Nine Premier League clubs were in action Saturday, none of them at home.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

An ex-PL star, however, thrilled his home fans in a Pride Park debut, facing top flight competition.


Derby County 3-0 Southampton

Frank Lampard is the new Rams’ boss, and his first home match was a win over Premier League competition.

“Lamps” got two goals from Tom Lawrence, and another from Mason Bennett as Saints fell by three. It was Southampton’s first match since returning from a China trip which saw a draw with Schalke and a defeat of Jiangu Suning.

Notts County 1-4 Leicester City

The visitors went down 1-0 before rebounding with vigor to hammer the Magpies behind four different scorers: Demarai Gray, Wes Morgan, Islam Slimani, and Hamza Choudhury.

AFC Wimbledon 2-1 Brighton and Hove Albion

The Gulls slipped to defeat, going down two before Ollie Norwood converted an Aaron Connelly-won penalty

Oxford United 1-3 Crystal Palace

Wilfried Zaha, Jeffrey Schlupp and Sullay Kaikai scored as Roy Hodgson‘s men collected an easy enough win away from home.

Real Betis 2-0 Huddersfield Town /  Roy-Weiss Essen 1-0 Huddersfield Town

The Terriers lost a pair of 45-minute friendlies in Belgium.

Elsewhere

Lille 0-0 (4-2, PKs) Everton
Lyon 4-0 Fulham
Fortuna Dusseldorf 1-3 Watford
Preston North End 2-2 West Ham United

Almost unprecedented: Sporting Lisbon facing exodus, free agent frenzy

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There is an almost unbelievable state of play at one of the world’s most successful clubs right now.

That club is Sporting CP, the group that has been home to Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo, and William Carvalho.

That last name is part of our story today.

[ MORE: Stoke signs Nigerian mid ]

When last we checked in with the Lisbon club, its players had been attacked mid-training session by a mob of supposed fans following the club’s failure to land its near-annual berth in the UEFA Champions League. This came a month after the club’s entire first team was suspended after a row with its president.

Sporting had spent four seasons in the UCL, rebounding from its lone season outside Portugal’s Top Four since 1976.

Now many on its laundry list of high-priced talents could be leaving the club for free, potentially setting one of the most storied clubs in Portugal back to its very roots.

Bas Dost, William Carvalho, Gelson Martins, and Bruno Fernandes reportedly requested to break their contracts on Monday, joining goalkeeper Rui Patricio and Daniel Podence.

Dost scored 27 league goals this season, and joined Fernandes and Martins as Top 15 performers according to WhoScored. Carvalho, the big 26-year-old midfielder, was 21st.

Sporting has done a remarkable job identifying talent from without and growing talent from within, only once spending more than $14 million on a player (Dost) while selling 11 individuals for that much or more (Adrien Silva, Ruben Semedo, Joao Mario, Islam Slimani, Marcos Rojo, Bruma, Joao Moutinho, Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo, Hugo Viana, Aldo Duscher).

Only a cursory search through our pages finds several of Sporting’s want-aways in the gossip section for almost thrice that figure. Carvalho (and/or Sporting) has resisted interest of as much as $50 million, often connected with Jose Mourinho. Dost has been linked with Newcastle, and Patricio said to be making a move to PL new boys Wolves.

To lose these players for free, largely because of an attack from “supporters” is bonkers. And in your gut, you have to think the players stand a very good chance of being allowed to leave for safety reasons, making for an unexpected sort of free agent frenzy.

How long would it take for a club to rebound from that, and how far could Sporting sink on the table? Fortunately, it would have some time to rebuild for its Europa League run, but wow.

Benitez non-committal on Newcastle future, saying team needs to buy

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Rafa Benitez has earned some chatter as a Premier League Manager of the Year candidate after guiding Newcastle United to safety one years after leading them back from the Championship.

Many thought he wouldn’t follow the team down a division after rallying Newcastle but falling two points shy of safety in 2015-16, but the Magpies won the Championship and are now in position to fight for a top half finish in this season’s Premier League.

[ MORE: Mourinho rips forwards after loss ]

But owner Mike Ashley hasn’t inspired confidence in his club in some time, and struck a confusing figure when big Benitez fan Amanda Staveley tried to buy the club late last year with the aim of leading the Magpies back into the European conversation.

Now the toast of the town, Benitez holds a lot of the momentum when it comes to his position at St. James’ Park. He’s not sure what’s coming next, even with the two sides discussing a new deal, and here’s what he said when asked whether he wants to stay next season.

“That is a tricky question. I said in an interview the other day I decided to stay because of the potential, the fans and the city. Then we have to do what we have to do.”

“But if you want to go to another level, you need more quality.”

Ashley has sold many of Newcastle’s best assets dating back to James Milner and including Yohan Cabaye, Andy Carroll, and Georginio Wijnaldum.

Benitez arguably would’ve had Newcastle competing for seventh if Ashley had sanctioned a striker purchase greater than the $6 million Joselu buy in August, then Islam Slimani on loan in January.

He’s coaxed career seasons out of Mohamed Diame, DeAndre Yedlin, Paul Dummett, and Kenedy (the last name on loan from Chelsea). It would be interesting to see what he’d be able to do with a nice transfer kitty.

Slimani charged by FA for violent conduct, no charge for Salah

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Newcastle forward Islam Slimani could miss the rest of the Premier League season after being charged with violent conduct by the FA.

A three-person panel found evidence of violent conduct via video after the match in an incident that wasn’t caught by the match official during Newcastle’s 1-0 defeat last Saturday to West Bromwich Albion. In the 80th minute, Slimani allegedly kicked West Bromwich defender Craig Dawson, but somehow the match officials failed to see the incident. Slimani has until May 1 to respond.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

It’s a poor end of the season for what’s been a rough year for Slimani. The Algerian international lost his place in the Leicester City side and on transfer deadline day in February joined Newcastle on loan until the end of the season. But including Saturday, Slimani has made just four appearances for Newcastle, with no goals scored.

Unless Claude Puel leaves this summer, Slimani will likely have to find another club again this summer and find his way back into the starting lineup.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Salah has avoided punishment despite looking as if he took a swipe at Stoke City defender Bruno Martins Indi during the side’s scoreless draw on Saturday.

Premier League Power Rankings: In tiers

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Liverpool has knocked Manchester City from the Champions League, but sits 19 points behind the leaders and City has a match-in-hand.

Manchester United beat City just weeks ago, but was bounced from the UCL even earlier. The Red Devils also took four of six points from Liverpool.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Spurs are fourth in the table but also took four of six from Liverpool and could be level on points with the Reds by winning its match-in-hand.

So the question remains, who’s the best team in the Premier League right now? That’s why we’re revisiting our Premier League Power Rankings for the first time in a while, since City was the unquestioned No. 1 for months.

Will it change anything? Spoiler alert: Probably not.

Spots 20-14: Not safe yet

20. West Bromwich Albion: The Baggies are going down, but Darren Moore has at least instilled some life into a moribund bunch which was saddled with the dour and unsuccessful tactics of Tony Pulis before moving onto the peppy and hard-to-understand tactics of Alan Pardew.

19. Stoke City — The Paul Lambert jump has faded, and the Potters’ inferior goal differential and one more match played than both Southampton and Swansea City feel like a death knell.

18. Southampton — Yes, the Bottom Three is the same as the table, but Saints are a New South Coast Derby win away from sitting three points back of pulling Palace and perhaps Huddersfield Town and West Ham United back into the picture.

17. Huddersfield Town — If David Wagner cannot lead the Terriers past Everton this weekend, his side finishes at Man City, at Chelsea, and home to Arsenal. That’s a recipe for watching a six-point advantage on the drop zone melt away.

16. Swansea City — Still four points clear of the drop zone, Swans have the cup half-full of facing Saints and Stoke City. The two sides aren’t very good, but also the only teams to worry about when it comes to their Premier League lives.

15. Crystal Palace — Given their turnaround from the beginning of the season, it feels dirty to have them so low. But of the three clubs sitting six points clear of 18th, the Eagles are the one to have three matches left and not four.

14. West Ham United — A brutal schedule featuring two of David Moyes‘ old sides — Everton and Manchester United — means the Irons cannot breathe safely yet (especially with Swans, Saints, and Stoke set to take points off each other).


Spots 13-11: Foot off the gas (and is there any gas in the tank?)

13. Watford — Javi Gracia may have Watford safe, and that was his charge, but the Hornets look like the same team they did under previous bosses. The Hornets have two points from their last six, and would be much further down the table if they weren’t essentially safe.

12. Bournemouth — Eddie Howe is probably wondering how that Arsenal chair would feel right about now, as the Cherries have probably reached a glass ceiling. Now a derby against Saints can define the run-in to the season.

11. Brighton and Hove Albion — Perhaps satiated by a five-match unbeaten run that featured a win over Arsenal and beat downs of Swansea and West Ham, Chris Hughton‘s Gulls have two points in five matches including a derby loss to Palace.

10. Everton — Sam Allardyce‘s men nicked a win off of Newcastle last weekend, and it was about as satisfying as moribund draws against Liverpool’s B Team and Swansea City. There’s a lot of unrest at Goodison Park, and Sam Allardyce has to go. Because of the relative positive vibes at lower table sides Leicester and Newcastle, Everton sinks beneath them.

9. Leicester City — A fun team which has had infuriating lapses at the back. Jamie Vardy‘s as reliable as ever, and there’s a real question what they’ll do without Riyad Mahrez (allegedly) in the future. Wilfred Ndidi, Demarai Gray, and Fousseni Diabate look a big part of said future, but it’s a bit alarming that the Foxes haven’t been able to take advantage of the relatively open door to seventh since Claude Puel righted Craig Shakespeare‘s sinking ship.

8. Newcastle United — The Magpies saw their win streak snapped by Everton, but Rafa Benitez is playing with house money after coaxed a midtable season out of a Championship squad. A healthy Islam Slimani has moved Dwight Gayle to his rightful role as a spark plug off the bench, but don’t sleep on the wonders Benitez has worked in turning Mo Diame, DeAndre Yedlin, and Paul Dummett into serviceable Premier League players. The future is bright if Mike Ashley sells the team or at least opens his purse strings to make one of the longest road trips in the PL even harder for visitors to St. James’ Park.


Spot 7: One of the best stories in Premier League history

7. Burnley — A loss to Chelsea and draw with Stoke has sunk Sean Dyche‘s excitement, we’re sure, but Southampton’s departure from the FA Cup means seventh place means Europa League. It’s Burnley in Europe: Yes, for real!


Spots 6-4: The bargaining stage of grief

6. Chelsea — The Blues have won two-straight in the league and reached an FA Cup Final against old pal Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, but there’s as much uncertainty at Stamford Bridge as there is at the Emirates. The difference? We know Roman Abramovich will spend more to try to fix it.

5. Arsenal — The danger of slipping behind Burnley and into seventh on the table has passed, but the Arsene Wenger goodbye tour is focused firmly on the Gunners’ fate versus Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Europa League and the quite decent form of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as well as a resurgent and healthy Aaron Ramsey. Defenders need improving in a big way and there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding Wenger’s replacement. Don’t know what you’ve got til its gone?

4. Spurs — No trophy again this season, and there’s a very good chance Tottenham will miss out on third place by virtue of goal difference when all is said and done; When all’s said and done, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men will have drawn 1-1 or 0-0 against West Brom, Swansea, Watford, West Ham, Saints, and Brighton. That’ll render a decent record against top foes less impressive.


Spots 3-1: Power trio

3. Manchester United — The Red Devils are better than almost everyone thinks despite precious few standout seasons from its players (David De Gea, Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Jesse Lingard are among the pardoned). When it comes to talking progress, however, second place won’t cut it: Mourinho needs that FA Cup win over Chelsea, a trophy United hasn’t won since (checks his notes) oh, two seasons ago.

2. Liverpool — The Reds looked incredible in dicing up Roma for 80 minutes, but allowed Roma a sliver of hope. Moreover, the last four goals Liverpool has allowed have come in the 79th, 88th, 81st, and 85th minutes. Why won’t we put them ahead of City? Well, let me clarify: it’s not PST, it’s me. I’ll own this: As brilliant as Liverpool was against City, they were out-chanced 31-14 over two legs. Give me that scenario 100 times, and I’m betting on the 31 about 85-90 times. The Reds are almost there, and Naby Keita over Jordan Henderson would be a huge upgrade (especially if this success convinces Emre Can to stick around). Next year, yeah. This year, just no.

  1. Manchester City — The records continue to fall, and it’s funny to consider that should City had lost the first Manchester Derby and been knocked out of the UCL a round earlier — yes, even by Liverpool in the same manner — no one would be arguing for anyone other than City at No. 1.